Defending the rights of young journalists in Pakistan

Defending the rights of young journalists in Pakistan

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According to investigative journalist Malik Ayub Sumbal, the rights of young journalists in Pakistan are not being adequately protected by the main journalistic bodies in the country. Three years ago, he took matters into his own hands and together with a few colleagues, founded the Young Journalist Association.

“I resigned from Pakistan’s largest English newspaper, The News of Pakistan, in protest against the discrimination and injustice I witnessed from senior staff members towards junior staff members in Pakistani media.

I wanted to raise my voice in support of all the young journalists who are suffering and being ignored by the powerful community of established journalistic bodies.

That is how I decided to found a trade association for young journalists.

There was a great demand within the mainstream unions and associations of journalists in the country, such as the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the National Press Club Islamabad, for a stronger representation of young journalists.

Due to the financial crunch, hundreds of young journalists in the last couple of years have been fired from leading media groups such as Dawn News, ATV, Geo English, AAJ and ARY One World.

The silence of the National Press Club Islamabad and of other journalistic bodies with regards to this issue led young journalists to wish to create a separate and adequate platform for young journalists.

In collaboration with four fellow members of the editorial team of Monthly Muckraker, the first investigative magazine published from Islamabad, I founded the Young Journalist Association on 21 December 2009. We were soon joined by a group of more than 100 young journalists based in Islamabad and who were working for leading newspapers and television channels.

Young Journalist Association

The need for professional journalism

The goal of our association is to bring about change within the media industry of our country, to give equal employment opportunity rights to all journalists and to end the monopoly of journalistic federations and bodies such as the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFJU) and National Press Club Islamabad over the funds provided by donations and the Pakistani government.

Our Secretary General Syed Atif Abbas Shirazi, 29, describes our goal as follows: “We are more than 300 members trying to further spread our network into the far flung areas of the country. Our mission is to protect young journalists’ rights in keeping their employment and to defend the practice of professional journalism in the media industry of Pakistan.”

Shirazi, who has been working as a senior reporter for the last three years for the Urdu language Daily Jang newspaper, adds: “We also want a handsome raise in the salaries and wages of young journalists.”

Young journalists are working on negligible salaries of PKR 7,000 (EUR 55) to PKR 14,000 while those working in senior positions receive salaries that can go as high as PKR 50,000 (EUR 405) to PKR 100,000.

The main head office of our association is in Islamabad and we have four provincial offices in the cities of Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.

We would like to have our own building just like the National Press Club Islamabad that was funded by the Pakistani government.

We are also looking to establish relations between young Pakistani journalists and international associations for young journalists, such as Youth Press, by providing information regarding international fellowships and scholarship programs and encouraging Pakistani journalists to apply. Unfortunately, however, their applications often fail to be validated because they are not supported by the Pakistani government.

Challenges ahead

Afshan Shiraz Khan, a 34 year old senior journalist with more than eight years of professional experience, heads the women’s chapter of the Young Journalists Association. “The association counts more than 70 female members and this is the first time as far as I can remember that females are given proper representation in a journalist association.”

Khan, who is associated with the English daily The News,  says that as the leader of the women’s wing she devotes herself to the cause of the young female journalists in the media industry: “I want to protect their jobs and make working conditions for females safer in a chauvinistic society such as Pakistan’s.”

”Now, people respect the ladies,” she explains. “At least they have it in their minds that if they create any problems with regards to the women, then strict action will be taken by the Young Journalists Association.”

For Muhammad Zamir Asadi, a 27 year old senior member of the association with five years of journalistic experience, the value of the association also lies in the age factor. “The association is a union of parallel minds because the majority of the members are under 30 years of age and the maximum age for membership is 35.”

Other membership criteria stipulate that candidates must hold at least a masters degree and be citizens of Pakistan.

Federal Minister for Information Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan

Asadi, who works for a mobile phone media firm in Islamabad, recalls the difficulties in establishing the association. “We faced a lot of opposition and criticism from the members of the National Press Club because they thought that the emergence of a new association would pose a threat to their monopoly.  Now we are among the leading independent young journalists associations in Pakistan, but we are still failing to co-exist in harmony with the other journalists associations because there is a lot of leg pulling and jealously among Pakistani journalists.”

The lack of financial resources is a major challenge for the association as it is not receiving any funding from any agency or sponsor.

As a consequence, members are self-generating revenue to meet the expenses of the association. Regular members pay PKR 500 annually and executive members who are 35 years of age pay PKR 1000 per month.

We are hoping to ask for help from international donors soon as we move on to our next step of creating the World Federation of Young Journalists.

We are planning a three-day conference in Islamabad in December of this year as part of the third university of the Young Journalist Association. The main objective of the conference will be to “strengthen the media through young journalists in Pakistan”.

Our Press Secretary Muhammad Idrees Randhawa says that it is the first time in the history of Pakistan that this kind of conference will be held in journalistic circles.

Our association is facing many challenges but we will continue our efforts because we believe in healthy and professional journalism.”